This seems to be the year for former Notre Dame basketball players to make a name for themselves on the other side of the whistle. Harold Swanagan was recently named Coordinator of Student Welfare and Development, while alumna Coquese Washington was promoted by Muffet McGraw to Associate Head Coach of the women's team.
But the biggest hoops name to return to the fold so far has been former guard Stan "Silky" Wilcox, who was named Deputy Director of Athletics in June. An athletics administration veteran after five years with the NCAA and 11 with the Big East Conference, Wilcox sought a return engagement with the Fighting Irish to round out a resume he hopes will be good enough for an Athletic Director's chair one day.
When he graduated from Notre Dame in 1981, Wilcox believed coaching and athletic pursuits would be available for him, and he was correct. But wary of how youth might not serve him in the coaching ranks and wanting to challenge himself with something he wasn't sure he could do for a change, he traded in his on-court responsibilities for something more in-court: helping to manage a New York City prison overcrowding crisis.
"In the early 1980's, we had a situation in New York City, particularly in Brooklyn, where they had to release prisoners from the downstate facilities due to overcrowding," Wilcox said in a recent interview. "The state decided they would need to implement some new systems to try and alleviate the case backlog on the criminal side that was causing that overcrowding.
"My responsibilities were to get the oldest files out of the courtrooms, summarize the reason the case had been delayed over the last six months, and provide that information to the judge. Then the judge would set up meetings with the DA's office, the Department of Corrections, the Legal Aid Society, and anyone who had anything to do with those cases to talk about the problems causing the delays in the cases in order to get them resolved and get the cases out of the system."
Surrounded by attorneys and judges, it was only a matter of time before Wilcox took advantage of the available resources and went to law school himself. After four years of night school at Brooklyn Law, he was close to the degree but not necessarily close to a decision on what he would do with it. Once again, Notre Dame figured in to the solution via a chance meeting with Missy Conboy at a football game.
"Missy was working for the NCAA at the time," Wilcox explained. "I was telling her how I was finishing up law school and wasn't sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. She was telling me how she was working in the Enforcement department at the NCAA and they were hiring attorneys. She encouraged me to use her name when applying."
Wilcox did so, earning a position with the organization's Legislative Services team, and thus began a sixteen-year career in athletics that saw Wilcox slowly begin to specialize. From the macro dealings of the various NCAA committees on which he served as liaison to the micro dealings of the specific Big East conference, Wilcox accumulated the experience he sought. But one thing was missing, and he felt he could find it at Notre Dame.
"The NCAA, being a national organization gave you a national perspective dealing with Division I, II and III schools," said Wilcox. "The things I learned at the national level also applied to a smaller segment of the NCAA like the Big East conference.
"But what Notre Dame allows me to do is get away from the regulatory side of things and back on to the operations side. Everything I did with the NCAA and Big East was dealing with the regulatory side of collegiate athletics. The piece I feel I was missing was the day-to-day operations side of things, and that's what this position gives me. It puts me in a position, if I want to become an athletic director myself or return to a conference as a commissioner, to get experience that I believe I'm lacking in my background right now."
Day-to-day will be Wilcox's watchword. His responsibilities include such diverse areas as softball, football, men's tennis, Rec Sports, Strength and Conditioning, and the Athletics Training staff, and he will be as involved as time will allow him with each group.
Although he admits no aims on Kevin White's chair, confessing that his wife is "an East Coast girl", Wilcox is clearly glad to be back in South Bend and reconnecting more directly to the Irish basketball world, whether it's reminiscing with Digger Phelps in the parking lot at Parisi's or having lunch with current Irish coach Mike Brey. "When I was at the Big East, I worked with Mike as well as Kevin White, so we know each other well. I always tell Mike that if there's anything I can do for him, don't hesitate to call. He's a great guy. I've always liked him, and he's going to have a lot of success here."